Will Bayside ever reach its potential?

 Curb appeal
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  November 20, 2013

More than 10 years ago, the city of Portland released “A New Vision for Bayside,” a collaborative document that envisioned, as then-mayor Nick Mavodones wrote in his letter of introduction, “the transformation of Bayside from an area characterized by disinvestment and urban blight to a new urban gateway for the Portland Peninsula presenting a proud image for the community.” 

Since the vision was announced in 2000, we’ve made piecemeal progress toward that comprehensive goal (see: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, the InterMed health care facility, the Bayside Village student apartments, and the Pearl Place apartment complex, and, of course, Bayside Bowl). Still, anyone who’s traversed the (often empty) Bayside Trail or attempted to navigate the neighborhood’s poorly paved, seemingly forgotten roads to nowhere will tell you that Bayside is far from a “fully functioning urban district” where “a compact blend of uses fosters lively daily interaction and a sense of community spirit.” Where the New Vision for Bayside hoped to “fill in, extend, and enhance the existing residential with a substantial amount of new housing units,” the reality is that this area virtually empties out after dark.

Now, as Portland moves into a booming period of growth and investment, a Miami-based developer hopes its mega-project can build on Bayside’s strengths while helping spur the progress the neighborhood needs. As with several other large projects in the pipeline around the city (see sidebar, “Boomtown”), this proposed development is big not just in physical size but also in symbolism; how we decide to proceed in Bayside will have long-term implications not just for that area but for the city as a whole.

The Midtown complex, as put forth by The Federated Companies, would comprise a mix of high-rise apartment buildings, multi-story parking garages, and ground-level retail and restaurant space, on what are now two vacant parcels of land along Somerset Street. It would be located on the former Bayside Rail Yard property, stretching between the Bayside Trail and Somerset Street from Pearl to Elm streets, with Chestnut Street dividing it down the middle. Divided into three phases, the complete project would cover almost three and a half acres. Federated Cos. is under contract to purchase the land from the city of Portland for $2.3 million, once it gets final planning board approval (realizing the potential value of this parcel, the city purchased it for brownfield cleanup and future redevelopment in the early 2000s). Phase One, with a projected cost of $38 million, would include one 700-spot parking garage (of two) and one 200-unit residential tower (of four) in the section of land between Pearl and Chestnut streets. Federated Cos. hopes to break ground next year.

Construction would entail raising parts of Somerset Street in response to flooding concerns (see sidebar, “Seeking High Ground”), creating a pedestrian corridor known as “the Mews” to provide connection between the pedestrian and bicycle trai and the street grid, and possibly accommodating an eventual extension of Pearl Street. Renderings of the buildings impart a modern industrial vibe, with glass, metal, and colored accents.  Earlier this year, the city council voted to allow Federated to submit plans for 165-foot towers, despite the fact that the area’s zoning set a 105-foot height limit. The city has also pledged $9.5 million toward the parking garage.

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